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[Back to Essays]

Shrink-Rapt Poetry?

( Published in issue 55 of THE NEW YORK QUARTERLY, Nov., 1995)

The following remarks were partially inspired by a long editorial in issue 39 of New York Quarterly on the possible damage done to creative people (that is, living people) by psychotropic (mind-changing) drugs. It occurred to me that, while psychiatric theories and practices impinge on the entire population, there's a special relationship between psychiatry and twentieth century poetry that renders poets particularly vulnerable: Psychiatry has been the religion of modern poetry, as closely intertwined with its practice as was, say Catholicism with the poetry of Dante.

When I'm not among poets, I find few people who know anything about poetry. On the other hand, it's a truism that a good friend who has never been trained in psychiatry is likely to do one more good than a professional shrink. This is one point where these professions diverge. I've been a poet for about 35 years, so I know something about poetry. I've spent those same years NOT being a psychiatrist, so I know something about psychiatry. (I HAVE done a few thousand hours of counseling with some success, but without the dubious benefit of psych-anything training.)

The usual connections discussed between psychiatry and poetry deal with either the profound implications for poetry of psychoanalytic concepts or the specific effects of treatment on Plath, Sexton, Lowell, Berryman and others. I will not here add a few more paragraphs to the libraries swollen with Freudian and Jungian significances or the shelves newly crammed full of Who- Done-It-To-Sylvia books. In any case, those who think that passing a large voltage through a depressed poet's brain is necessary or wholesome should probably not bother to read on.

My emphasis is, rather, that the relationship between poets and psychiatrists is much like the relationship between Afghan children and the Russian troops who scattered grenades disguised as toys: We (poets) are playing with toys strewn by an enemy - or at best a doubtful ally. These toys may be attractive, but it helps to know where they came from and what traps they may conceal, lest we be maimed by them.

(This will be a pontification, mainly - no textual criticism. Proceed at risk; beware of heavy ideas falling on road.)

Before I relate poetry to psychiatry, I need to relate psychiatry to psychiatry - it's a schizoid subject. Most educated people still think of psychiatry as, primarily, "talk therapy", for example, psychoanalysis. Indeed, until recently, wealthy literate urban types (including the writers who "educate" us on the subject), when they sought psychotherapy, received some form of talk therapy, while rural and poor people were shipped to asylums where treatment consisted mainly of drugging, shock and brain-cutting.

This has changed (as NYQ 39 documented). Few psychiatrists now are trained in psychoanalysis, and little attention is given in their training to any form of talk therapy. Psychologists and social workers are more likely to be taught this, but the leaders in the mental health field are the psychiatrists (the 007s of medicine). And in the rush to embrace biopsychiatry (your every upset is a chemical imbalance in your brain - though saying "your" and "brain" is a redundancy in biopsychiatry), many psychiatrists favor the elimination of talk therapy from the psychiatric approach to mental health.

It's much better economics to give out shocks and pills. A psychiatrist can hand out Prozac prescriptions to 10 patients (for a substantial fee - and $1000 for a single electric shock) in the hour it takes to LISTEN to a single patient. And the listening requires attention and hearing about all sorts of possibly upsetting things and, usually, feeling the aftershock of failure to help. And the drugs are slicker: Lots of side effects, but the worst ones are subtler than tardive dyskinesthesia. Suicidal and murderous obsessions behind a smiling face are not as disturbing to family and friends as unceasing, limb-and-face-wrenching twitches.

And the insurance companies pay for it. And Clinton's health plan will pay for more of it.

Yes, there are "alternative" and "holistic" approaches, but they are not part of the main psychiatric agenda, they do not receive the bulk of government funding, they are not establishing clinics in public schools and they have little to do with the treatment of mental illness in this country and Europe.

A psychiatrist will argue that biopsychiatry is not only profitable and easy (for the practitioner), but also the most effective therapy. Since Time Magazine and most TV networks and NPR have been propagating this viewpoint for years, it should need no further promotion here. For an opposition viewpoint, I recommend the book Toxic Psychiatry by Peter Breggin, M.D., St. Martins Press, NY, 1991. Or, for a booklet-length, more sensational and less expensive view, get hold of a terrific piece of muck-raking (which doesn't mean untrue - it's well documented) called The Rise of Senseless Violence in Society: Psychiatry's Role in the Creation of Crime, available for two bucks from CCHR, (Citizens Commission on Human Rights) 6362 Hollywood Blvd., Ste. B, L.A., CA 90028. For those allergic to muck-raking and who want something more intellectually austere than Breggin, try Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness.

What's wrong with psychiatry? I'll confine myself to a few brief remarks (which I won't try to substantiate here, but the above references do a good job of it, particularly Breggin):

  1. No, it has NOT been demonstrated that our mental problems result from chemical imbalances in our brains. This is a piece of metaphysics, like the notion that we moderns, being scientific, know that you die and that's it, because this was proven by science long ago (when?). Yes, it is possible to add a chemical and change brain chemistry and with it our behavior/moods. But it is also possible to change our behaviour/moods and with it, brain chemistry. Any good hypnotist, for example, can change brain chemistry by implanting a mood. And it doesn't require a hypnotist. One can learn to do it at will. So which comes first? Do we cause our brain chemistry, or does our brain chemistry cause us? Even the experiments that claimed to find physical differences (shrunken parts) in the brains of people suffering certain symptoms failed to take into consideration that these people were already on psychiatric drugs known to cause such shrinkage.

    [Speaking of size of brain parts - props for the obscene jokes of future generations of children? - it is odd to see leaders of gay movements cheering on the shrinks - brain shrinkers - who claim that homosexuals are homosexuals because one part of the homosexual's brain is unusually small (or is it large?). It was psychiatrists who established the first concentration camps in Germany (e.g., Dachau) and the first ovens for ridding the Reich of useless eaters, homosexuals and others who were alleged to be genetically inferior, and it was psychiatrists in Germany (e.g., Ernst Rudin), England, the United States and elsewhere who did the early "scientific" spadework for Hitler, for example, on Jewish and Negro inherent personalities and on the necessity to purify the human race with eugenics. When psychiatry says you're not sick, you're just "different" - you should hide, not cheer.]

  2. The psychiatrists who say, "Yes, these treatments do have some unfortunate side effects, but we must live with these, because nothing else works to relieve the symptoms", have not studied everything else. The implied research that studied everything else and discovered that it didn't work does not exist. At best, it can be verified that some psychiatrists poorly trained in some form of talk therapy never validated by clinical study in the first place failed to relieve a patient of schizophrenia by listening poorly, interrupting frequently and lavishing upon him or her the high affinity we usually reserve for cockroaches.

    I know of approaches that DO work to relieve clinical depression, for example, that do NOT require drugs, shock, etc. But that's another story. It's hard to prove that in the scope of this article. It's easier to show that psychiatry hasn't really looked. That's an absence, easy to find not there once you look for it. Some researchers DO look and DO find workable techniques. When these techniques don't fit the psychiatric agenda, the official response is always, "Oh, this patient is perfectly sane. You say you cured her paranoia? No no no, it must have been a misdiagnosis to begin with, since we all know that talk therapy can't cure paranoia. Freud said so. By the way, you've lost your grant."

  3. Psychiatrists present themselves as those who have, historically, taken responsibility for relieving humanity of mental anguish. And many people believe this. It's part of an intense double-think in our society: One night the made-for-TV movie features a villainous Svengali in a white coat who terrorizes patients, and we nod, yes, isn't psychiatry awful. The next night we nod as energetically to see the loving shrink who, with immense compassion and personal sacrifice, leads some poor sufferer back to the sunlight. Then there's the good- hearted or at least harmless bumbler (Frazier). No doubt all these clichés convey some truth.

But as one might expect from a field whose name means "Soul-healing", but which begins by declaring that the soul is an unwieldy superstition to be discarded - all is not what it seems. Psychiatry, historically, from Bismark to this moment, has been financed, not by individuals seeking help, but by governments seeking ways, not to cure individuals, but to CONTROL POPULATIONS. On an individual level, this means the goal is to control (suppress) symptoms or suppress the people whose symptoms can't otherwise be suppressed.

The political objectives of psychiatry are obvious and widely agreed upon when we look at the uses of psychiatry in the USSR (and, no, they didn't fund Pavlov because they wanted to control their canine population). It's no less obvious (when, for example, one looks at the evidence in Breggin's book), but much less agreed upon when we consider the practice of psychiatry in the United States.

Obviously the psychiatrists who prescribe Ritalin in our schools have no political objective. They're just handling a brain imbalance. It's odd, however, that only 2 or 3% of the children in a typical white suburban school have brains lacking Ritalin, while more than 50% of the children in an urban black school are likely to need it.

And we all know that governments are ANTI drug, right? Why would a country at war with drugs sponsor a practice that hooks people on drugs that do essentially the same thing as illegal street drugs: Damage the brain and make people feel better, sometimes, while on the drug? I can't think of any political motivation for producing a drugged passive slave society - though the CIA did confess to introducing LSD into this country via subsidized psychiatrists (including Cameron, then head of the World Mental Health Assoc., who ran murderous LSD/shock/deep sleep experiments on his unsuspecting patients in Montreal in hopes of developing a real Manchurian-Candidate assassin for the CIA) - as part of MK Ultra in the 50's and early '60's. (No assassins resulted, it is claimed, but the experiments produced lots of vegetables, so maybe it served agriculture.)

By the way, these psychopolitical goals are easy to document. Like the Nazis, the psychiatric establishment despises us experimental subjects too much to leave anything undocumented. The speeches made by prominent psychiatrists to psychiatric associations and government officials over the years are on record and are astonishing - as blatant as Mein Kampf and as little heeded. (The CCHR booklet provides some interesting references.)

In summary, there's this profession called psychiatry whose mainline teachings proclaim that we are our minds, and our minds are our brains - or, some say, our brains, nervous systems and endocrines and related biological structures; that any mental upset is a chemical imbalance; that we can't help ourselves, but must be controlled by drugs or shock or other intrusive methods to restore chemical balance; that we are the effect of heredity (It used to be environment and heredity, but environment is becoming unfashionable because it makes too many mothers feel guilty and it suggests that one should do something for the person other than inject chemicals); that the well-adjusted (or chemically balanced, now) is healthy, etc.

And, conversely, it teaches that the spirit is non-existent - or at best a meaningless construct, death an absolute; that it is necessary to dump the burdens of ethics, dignity, freedom, spirituality, etc. (Psychologist B. F. Skinner, who developed instrumental conditioning, tried to raise his daughter by it and produced something less sanguine than Walden Two, even wrote a book about this called Beyond Freedom and Dignity. What's beyond freedom and dignity? Being well-adjusted, well conditioned.)

And, by the way, those most likely to lead us away from this ideal of "well adjustment", the most self-determined people in society, the creative people who tend to make their own rules - in short, the artists - are crazy, because you have to be crazy or next thing to it to be a great artist, so if you're an artist, to show your greatness, live an undisciplined, unethical life and generally make a mess of it. And realize that you need help ASAP, run, do not walk to your nearest clinic.

Well, that's a relief: The villain of the piece is modern biopsychiatry. We poets have nothing to do with that (except for a few suicides and incoherent out-patients). OUR intimate relationship is with the poetic fringes of psychotherapy, Freud, Jung, the vasty deeps of the unconscious, etc. And haven't I just said that psychiatry is now in the process of discarding these practices? We're humanists, not psychosurgeons.

This brings me to the linking of psychiatry to psychiatry (sleek stainless steel biopsychiatry to old sloppy lie-on-the-couch-and-be-interesting analysis) I spoke of a few pages ago: Poets, in my experience, are just beginning to understand what biopsychiatry means: You've lost a lover: Don't try to understand it or achieve some new wisdom. Take an anti- depressant. This is not a popular view with most poets I know. It's not deep and symbolic and "inner" like Freud and Jung. It's uncomfortable.(But articulate mental health spokespersons will say that's a distortion: "We don't recommend drug treatment for temporary upsets; only for chronic clinical depression." Nonsense: Powerful and dangerous anti-depressants are being broadly promoted as diet pills and prescribed for momentary upsets. Recently psych. hospitals were closed in Texas and other states when it was proven that they were recruiting and even kidnapping prospective "patients", some with no symptoms of mental illness, and putting them on psychiatric drugs until their insurance ran out, then discovering suddenly that the "patients" were ready for release. When the government guarantees lots of mental treatment as part of its health package, it will be risky to act a bit odd, you wild and crazy poets.)

I would contend that the similarities between the psychoanalysts and the biopsychiatrists are, broadly viewed, more significant than the differences and that the psychoanalysts helped build a path to this dominance of biopsychiatry in our society. Yes, psychiatry is now in the process of ridding itself of psychoanalytic theory and practice, but only as one dispenses of a worn tool.

Here are some agreements shared by classical psychoanalysis, biopsychiatry and most "official" forms of psychotherapy and psychology:

  1. Man is effect, not cause. Man is not responsible for his condition. In psychoanalysis man is the effect of his unconfrontable unconscious ("The horror! The horror!"), not his brain chemistry, but the key is: Effect, not cause. Earlier psychology (e.g., faculty psychology in the Middle Ages) spoke of the will, of the spirit, of responsibility, etc. (Not always: High priesthoods prefer a populace that only follows orders, whether the brain's or God's words as "relayed" by the priesthood.) A man can't create the world he wants to live in. He can only adjust (to the brain's demands for chemical, to the demands of irrationality) and cope.

    Hence we are not to be trusted with our own salvation. The psychiatrist must control us for our own good. The psychoanalyst must explain us to ourselves, invest even our dreams with his interpretations. Eventually we'll all have wires hooked up to our pleasure centers and all will be well, all manner of THING will be well.

  2. Man is effect, not cause. I said that already. I'll say it again if necessary to make the point that no other agreement is needed to demonstrate the linkage. It sounds like a little thing. It's not. Sure, you can find therapists here and there who don't agree that man is helpless before the onslaughts of environment and/or heredity and/or the unconscious, but they are not part of the mainstream, the funded, the positioned.

What happens to a child if, in rearing him, you continually point out to him that he can't control himself or much else, that he can't help himself, that he has to be careful because nearly everything is dangerous to him, that he's not responsible for what he does and that, poor thing, he's most lovable and interesting when he's been picked on or hurt and can't do anything about it?

If the world were full of children who'd been raised that way, what sort of world would it be?

Not much need to run this experiment: It might cause pain you cannot easily undo. And the experiment has already been run on all of us for decades: We've been told that we are the effect of things: The world is dangerous to us. The opposite sex is dangerous to us. Our own minds are too much for us. We must adjust to the world (school, corporation, etc.), not adjust it to us. Those who suggest that we are responsible for the state we're in are guilt mongers. Drug abuse and child abuse are not unethical, but are illnesses, and really not illnesses, but alternate lifestyles (yes, these are actual psychiatric theories). And here we are (more or less).

(No wonder psychiatry served the Soviets so eagerly: Marxist theology is also an "effect" view, ideas the result of collisions of opposing forces, etc.)

Having achieved this unified field theory of psychiatry, I will now speculate on what sort of poetry would be based on an effect view of man. I hope you didn't expect a two-volume dissertation on the specific influences, already much documented, of psychoanalytic theory, alienation, etc., on poetry. No, this will be relatively painless, just a simple way to align and understand some of the dogmas that have attached themselves to our poetry, mostly in this century.

(In what follows, I don't argue that poetry so influenced is necessarily lousy. Someone good can make something interesting out of excrement. But it's a great way to lose an art form its audience.) Here are a few likely characteristics:

  1. A glorification of victims, who become the "real heroes". (Funny how much easier it is now to write about victims, how difficult to write convincingly of heroes, people who cause to happen what they want to happen and are not then overwhelmed by what they have caused.) And the weird are more interesting than the "normal", where weirdness is a subset of victimhood; for example, baroque compulsions are considered fascinating and "deep", because they reveal the inner depths of all of us, and are we not all victims, helpless before the chaos of our own minds?

  2. A glorification of "symbol" and "myth", since these find favor with the unconfrontable unconscious, which is more powerful and more meaningful than our conscious "thought" or "rationality" or even our observation and knowing.

  3. A glorification of the irrational (not non-rational or transcending rational or mystical, but irrational). For example, surrealism, which features dream imagery, means "above [sur] reality". The surreal is not simply unreal or other-real; it's above/superior to the real. Note that it is not the knowingly created dream, the imagined, that is exalted here, but the unknowingly, unwillingly created dream, the imagery that imposes itself from "the unconscious" where the unconscious is not simply what we are not conscious of (vanishing as consciousness increases), but a transcendent permanence.

    Andre Breton founded the Surrealist movement, calling it "pure psychic automatism...dictation of thought in the absence of any control exercized by reason, beyond any esthetic or moral preoccupations." Breton's education was in psychiatry.

    [When I tire of overheated dissociative art, I take a cool dip into Nabokov, the only prominent modern I know of who found both Freudian and Jungian unconsciousnesses to be facile, boring and pretentious. Viewing psychiatry as a bizarre, arbitrary construct, he simply out-created it. That Joyce (and others) could make art out of it (as some would argue) says more for Joyce than for Freud and Jung. Or says that Freud and Jung have a rather aesthetic play of ideas in among the dross - better poetry than science, I've long suspected.]

  4. A glorification of the unintended: The true poem must happen to one. You don't make it; you step in it. You don't communicate it; you shake it off your foot onto everything in range. It isn't made (though "poet" comes from poein, Greek for "to make"). Free association is better than rational thought, and dissociation is better yet (derange the senses). Even the craftsmen of our century have mostly found ways to say that what they so meticulously rendered was somehow imposed upon them and inevitable: They couldn't help themselves.

  5. The assumption that the basic truths of existence (or the deepest truths we can reach) are unconfrontably horrible. The argument runs as follows: We moderns now know that life is a meaningless horror from which we are protected by various frail strategems and illusions. Most people don't want to confront these horrors, which would only drive them mad. Therefore, serious works of art cannot be popular. Conversely, to make a work of art more popular, one must make it more corny (untruthful, sentimental, etc.). It follows that if a work is broadly popular, it must be corny. It is dangerous to go deeper, to try to get at more basic agreements. One doesn't have a faith; one clings to a faith in order to stave off truth.

    Vision is, of necessity, grim if it is valid. Great poetry is either shocking (jolt people into seeing the awful truth - shock therapy, of course) or obscure (elaborately non-confronting the truth, sneaking up on it) or complexly, tentatively affirmative, where the poet carefully "comes to terms with the meaninglessness of existence" by means of complex ironies, "wry self-deprecating humor" and almost apologetic joys that pop up in life despite all our theories - like weeds in parking-lot asphalt. Or poetry evades paraphrasable message altogether: Poem as pure music or image or "language", truth in surface, etc.

    It follows that poetry must be alienated, since poetry reaches for a truth that any broad audience is incapable of confronting: The world is unworthy of vision. (Besides, in a world devoid of spirit, how can we not be out of communication with ourselves and each other? Knock knock! Who's there?) Why should a poet try hard to be understood when he feels that what he has to say will only make his audience as miserable as he is? Or when he despises and fears his audience?

    And we can never hope to understand each other, the Holocaust or anything else worth understanding. (We're pretty spineless, can't face much. Humanity is Groucho's club, the one he wouldn't want to join because it would have him as a member.)

    Even formalists like Frost, Yeats and Auden are hard put to escape this black hole. Fortunately poetry is not limited by the speed of light. No matter the gravity, some manage to achieve escape velocity on occasion. And a few never agreed.

  6. I mentioned shock as a valued poetic strategy: Since I feel the value of shock is much overrated both in poetry and psychiatry, I want to stress just how much shock has become the common coin of this century's literature (especially poetry), most of it about as shocking as a child's dirty joke. Art has always, I think, involved surprise, a simultaneity of surprise and familiarity, freshness and inevitability, something new that has yet always been known. The aesthetic of shock goes beyond surprise (and it doesn't require freshness, only force, perhaps very stale force): It postulates that if a person can be jolted out of one state, he/she will land in a better state.

    Yes, if you throw babies into a cold fast river to teach them to swim, some will learn - but most will drown. If you wanted to teach swimming (or anything else that can be taught), you'd best offer a series of easy steps that build up gradually to mastery.

    Shock "therapy" cures depression, or seems to (sometimes) by wiping out memories and abilities and moving man toward zombie. (That some survive it with remnant heart speaks for their force of personality, not the value of shock.) Shock in life and literature is justified as a way of jarring people out of fixed ideas and attitudes, but shock flings a person from one fixidity into another (explaining, perhaps, the fanaticism of converts). Shock is not what its RECIPIENTS need. It's what it's PURVEYORS need to deliver. It's a symptom of the desperation of poets who cannot reach an audience, of psychotherapists who, losing patience, cannot help patients. It is vengeance masquerading as education or therapy. It loses readers as well as patients.

    (Again that reservation: It can be made into great art. I suppose anything can. The more tools the merrier. But it's a mistake to confuse a tool - and a blunt one at that - with the essence of poetry.)

  7. I think, too, that a poetry wedded to psychiatry would worship the image. This is partly a matter of avoiding the odious "message" as a solution to basic truth or any approach to wisdom being unconfrontably horrible. But it's also part of that worship of the unconscious: The image must be haunting and overpowering. It must be traumatic, something that one doesn't create, but sets down because it won't go away. Abstract statement is verboten. Poetry is IMAGE IMAGE IMAGE. (Again, nice tool, the image, but awfully limiting as a definition of poetry.)

I could think of more parallels to (or consequences of?) psychiatry in the catechisms of modern poetry, but my point is probably made by now - or unmakeable. I'm aware of post-modern backlashes, new bastions of formalism and abstract statement. I don't know whether these amount to a substantial change of course, and I don't know to what extent these new trends, resisting the modernist clichés, incorporate them in new forms. My point here has been, simply to indicate that in this century, psychiatry has been the theology of poetry. Even staunchly Anglican Great Poets speak with the voice of dissociation.

If I'm correct that poetry has taken on a psychiatric theology in this century, is this peculiar to poetry? What about the other arts and professions? No doubt our schools, churches, legal system (e.g., the notions of legal responsibility) and our other artforms have been as influenced - or nearly so. I think psychiatry has particularly found favor among the poets. Here I haven't much to say. I'm too lazy to do the scholarship required to sell this point. I have only my impression as reader that poetry bore the brunt of a psychiatric impingement upon the arts. What makes me think this?

  1. The percentage of walking wounded in our field seems higher than that in any other field.

  2. Poetry has had the greatest loss of a broad audience (a much debated point these days).

  3. There are a lot more novels, for example, that I can feel good after reading than poems. The sort of dissociation I spoke of earlier was still "experimental" in most writing long after it was endemic in poetry. I suppose painting could be argued to have blazed some of these trails, but I don't think painting had a "logic-promising" syntax as powerful as that of everyday language to violate. (Sorry to even begin to open this can of worms in a short article.)

  4. It makes sense (some will say paranoid sense) that poetry WOULD be the first target for psychiatric subversion: Poetry depends more than any other art form on the understood word. Most of us communicate primarily in words, not in pictures or melodies, for example. Seldom outside of opera do we see people at a bus stop singing songs at each other. If you wanted a slave society (if, for example, you were afraid of anyone being powerful enough to find you out and hurt you), the first thing to do would be to make it hard for people to communicate to each other, since your small organized group would then meet no organized opposition. A small group can easily control a mob. To wipe out clear communication, muddle language as a tool for clear communication. To muddle language, corrupt that art form chiefly responsible for keeping language alive and able to get across what we feel, dream, remember, etc. To corrupt that art form, push the idea that words are not to be understood. (I think here of an interview I read twenty years ago where Mick Jagger explained that for a song to be popular, it was essential that it be impossible to make out the words.) Push such concepts as "I really write for myself", "You're not SUPPOSED to understand it", "Of course it doesn't make sense" (irrationality being the supreme goal), "No one really understands anyone else anyway", "The point is not words communicating, but the music or the image or...".


It has often been observed that poets in the Western world have been free to say anything at all in this century; whereas, poets in places like Cuba and Russia have been frequently imprisoned and even executed for their poems - and that our Western freedom is not an unmixed blessing: We are left alone because we are not considered important enough to bother with. We are not dangerous, because we don't reach people, don't stir change, don't communicate or increase the ability of others to communicate. I think we poets have been a well-controlled population, like the hippies who rebelled against the establishment by tripping on CIA-imported LSD.

I think poetry has become the least dangerous of arts because it was made that way because it was the most dangerous of arts.

My argument for this special relationship between poetry and psychiatry is far less complete (for me, I mean) than my argument earlier for the parallel interests of psychiatry and recent poetry, but if it is the case, how is it we've been so easily taken in? Aesthetically, I suppose, the thrill of a brave new world of ideas. And the addictive quick fix that lets us too easily create new combinations of images when excused from having to make old-fashioned sense.

Also, poetry, receiving few rewards or recognitions based in broad public acceptance, cut off largely from a recognized role in the broader community and from commercial success, gains validation for its work from small coteries of "authorities" who disguise opinion and politics behind pseudotechnical complexities and complex verbiage - just as psychiatry does. This renders poets particularly vulnerable to psychiatric theology: An emperor accustomed to parading in rags and pretending to splendor is in no condition to recognize another emperor's nakedness.

The psychiatrists are the high priests of our day (official workers of magic, spiritual - or anti-spiritual - authorities, using that authority to maintain control of the populace for the priesthood's own profit and on behalf of the government that funds and endorses it - and is perhaps controlled by it, a president on Halcyon, for example).

Perhaps much of the unpopularity of poetry and the tendency of poets to be taken in by psychiatry (personally or in their work) stems from poets, too, wanting to be high priests. We become what has overwhelmed us. I begin to think that the way most "serious" poets INTONE their spoken lines (that sweeping vast intonation with the upward questioning tilt at the end that resolves in a low note in the last line) is not lyric (songlike), but priestly chant, the high priest about to plunge his obsidian dagger into the virgin's heart - one of those magical moments.

If of no other use, these ideas provide yet another excuse for finding most poetry bad. Are we not all editors at heart? What matters the excuse if we can just find a reason to read less of the stuff and still call ourselves serious about poetry.

Or perhaps great poetry has had always at its core some awareness of us as immortal spiritual beings at play (and quite "out of our heads", possibly dangerous to the psycho-social order). Perhaps poetry will always be the playing field of those who have never agreed to be slaves. That's corny enough to be true.

For more information, visit Citizen's Commission for Human Rights on the Web.


copyright c. 2000,2004 by Dean Blehert. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Last updated: November 18, 2012